Tuesday - extra edition - Women In Science Summary Statement
Those who are visiting this blog via links in the online comments to the TierneyLab ("Male Bias or Female Choice?") in The NY Times today may not be particularly interested in this week's rants about bizarre and unwieldy accounting procedures that afflict university researchers with grants. For tomorrow's post, I was planning on writing about how much -- and in what circumstances -- faculty use their own money to pay for research expenses. The majority of my posts are about basic Science Professor issues.
I write about life as a Science Professor, but my experience is profoundly affected by the fact that I am a woman. I am never just a Science Professor, as I am constantly made aware that I am a Female Science Professor (hence the name of this blog). Throughout my academic career, I have had negative experiences directly related to being female, and I know from discussions with female colleagues that I am by no means alone in these experiences:
physical: grabbed, touched, pinched etc.;
verbal: told I was/am stupid, told that women can't be scientists, told that I'm not a 'real' professor because I'm a woman, told that I am not objective because I am a woman, told that I am not as qualified as men who have the same credentials; and: whenever I attain something (a job, a grant, an award, a position of responsibility in a professional organization), I am asked "Did they have to select a woman?" or told "They must have had to select a woman".
economic: paid significantly less than male peers, given less lab space, given lower priority for leaves/matching funds/other requests related to $$ and my research program;
other: burdened with service work but never given a leadership role; I am forever serving as the low-level but diligent member of committees and/or as the token woman.
Additional examples are detailed in this blog.
Summary: Discrimination, bias, and harassment of women in subtle and non-subtle ways are pervasive in the physical sciences.
The academic culture is set up in a way that makes it difficult (but not impossible) for women to have families and a successful career; academia is not alone in this, of course. Nevertheless, despite endless studies of why women drop out of science, the culture of bias and the family-unfriendly organization of the typical university make it unlikely that the situation will improve any time soon.
The question of 'female choice' -- as in, do women choose not to be scientists -- is not a relevant question; it is a diversion based on flawed data. Those of us who teach at universities have long had significant numbers of women in our undergraduate and graduate science classes. Many of these women are passionate about science, and they are very smart. It is bizarre to ask a question about whether women decline to pursue scientific careers because they aren't interested or whether they drop out because they don't want to work hard enough. The women are there, they are interested, and they are able.
The relevant question is: How can we change things to encourage these smart, motivated, hard-working women to stay in science?
If this blog had not been mentioned in the comments of the TierneyLab, I probably wouldn't have bothered writing about John Tierney yet again.
I have written about him before: first when he questioned the NAS study "Beyond Bias and Barriers" based in part of the fact that the NAS committee was mostly comprised of women. I noted the many committees I have been on that have been dominated by men; in fact, for many committees I am the only woman. Some committees at my university are entirely composed of men (including a recent hiring committee that recommended hiring .. a man!), and no one seems to be doubting their objectivity.
I later commented on an even stranger op-ed piece by Tierney, in which he wrote about how liberating it must be for women in Civil War reenactments to wear bulky, sweltering clothes. I was disappointed that he did not take his essay to its natural conclusion of considering the liberating effects of wearing a burkha.
There are young women science students, researchers, and faculty today who have not personally experienced or been aware of bias or discrimination, and this is extremely encouraging. Clearly, though, there are not enough women having these positive experiences to increase the participation of women in science. Something has to change.
6 months ago